Scientists give mice infrared vision, turning them into tiny predators



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dra_schwartz / Getty / Jackson Ryan

Pop culture is full of superheroes and villains who can see their world in infrared. Superman can do it. So can the dreaded predator. Unfortunately for us, this ability has remained confined to comics and film. Yes, the human eye is a marvel in itself, but the ability to see beyond the visible spectrum is simply not part of its capabilities.

However, a group of Chinese scientists may have changed the situation by creating an injectable nanoparticle offering a superhuman vision.

Researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China and the University of Massachusetts Medical School have developed an "ocular nanoparticle" capable of detecting near infrared light (NIR). They then injected it directly into the mouse's eyes. Their study, published in Cell on February 28, shows that the mice received a "super vision" allowing them to see beyond the visible spectrum, without any effect on their normal vision.

Essentially, they created a Supermouse. That's its original story – and no, it does not involve (unfortunately) no radioactive spiders.

Mouse eyes, like human eyes, are limited to "visible light," which is only a tiny part of the electromagnetic spectrum. As a general rule, our eyes only respond at wavelengths between about 400 and 700 nanometers. Wavelengths greater than 700 nanometers are invisible to us and are called "infrared" (and even longer wavelengths are elements such as microwaves and radio waves, which we do not can not certainly see).

To allow the eye of the mouse to see in the infrared, the research team developed a nanoparticle that would displace the wavelength of incoming infrared light (at 980 nanometers) to a detectable wavelength by the cells of the eye (535 nanometers). The nanoparticle is so small that it can be injected into the internal eye, where it attaches to the cells of the retina, responsible for converting light into electrical signals that can be interpreted by the brain. And by reducing the wavelength up to 535 nanometers, the eye of the mouse should be able to detect infrared light, once invisible, in the form of a green glow.

The researchers tested whether the mouse could detect light by evaluating their pupils. When exposed to light, the wards of mice (and humans) contract to regulate the amount of light that passes into the eyes. If the nanoparticles were working, scientists should be able to shine the invisible infrared light in the eye while letting the pupils contract.

And that is exactly what happened. Supermouse was born.

The injected mice were able to locate a hidden underwater platform, in a Y maze, in the dark!

University of Science and Technology of China / Cell

In addition, the team examined the mice in a series of aquatic labyrinths to determine if they could distinguish visual patterns in infrared light to find a hidden platform. They trained the mice to associate an infrared light pattern with the platform and then tested injected and uninjected mice to see how they behaved.

Mice that did not receive eye injections found the platform correctly only 50% of the time, but those with nanoparticles hidden in their eyes could do so about 80% of the time, even in the dark. In addition, the nanoparticles continued to act for up to 10 weeks without any residual side effects or long-term damage to normal vision.

Because the new technology is compatible with normal vision, it could offer a new way to improve mammal vision or even open new avenues to repair normal vision – you can tinker with nanoparticles to analyze different lengths of vision. wave or alter them sufficiently for them to be delivered. drugs in the eyes.

It's not a wink and you'll miss the technology too – there's still a lot of work to be done before you can get infrared vision levels from comic book heroes. The nanoparticles used in this study only capture a very specific infrared wavelength – anything that stays out would remain invisible.

But hey, it's still a pretty good story from the beginning. I want to follow.

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